Last Friday the Center for Khmer Studies said goodbye to its class of 2013 Summer Junior Residents, who have been based at their Wat Damnak campus for the last six weeks.
The program brings together fifteen undergraduate students from France, America and Cambodia to learn more about contemporary Cambodian culture and society through a mixture of classroom sessions and study trips to cultural sites and NGOs.
The junior fellowship program has been running since 2004 and CKS director Krisna Uk said that one of its key objectives is to encourage young scholars to continue to study topics related to Southeast Asia.
She said, “The idea is to inspire them. The second aim of the program is to give them skills such as critical thinking, analysis and oral presentations. It’s a very rich program.”
This year the students have been attending classes on twentieth century Cambodian history and politics, with a focus on how the country is re-engaging with regional and international communities in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge period. At the end of the program the students write individual research projects on a topic of their choice. They investigate subjects as diverse as environmental change, religious movements, human rights and history.
Rachael Comunale, a history and government major from Cornell University in the US, said that the program has definitely persuaded her to do future work on Cambodia. She said, “I am now applying for a Fulbright scholarship and hope to come back here and continue with the same research I’ve started this year. I also want to continue studying Khmer at Cornell.”
All the French and American students take Khmer classes, while the Khmer students spend time improving their English. Comunale enjoyed being based in Siem Reap and studying alongside Cambodians. “I’ve learned a lot from the Khmer students, talking with them, going out for dinner, them teaching us things. That is how I learned a lot of my Khmer language, by pointing at things and learning words I use every day.
“Everyone has different backgrounds and we have all really bonded. I’ve made a lot of really good friends. You can learn only so much from books but you learn so much more being immersed in a place”.
Comunale’s research project looked at media and the impact of the internet on spreading information, and for her the timing of the program has been perfect. “I’ve been comparing what I could find in the archives of the Phnom Penh Post and the Cambodia Daily. It’s been really interesting and I’ve been really enjoying it. We’re so lucky to have been here during the election too.”
The students celebrated the end of the program with a farewell barbeque and certificate ceremony hosted by Uk and staff at CKS.
Uk said one of the most rewarding aspects of the program for her is seeing the students work together. She said, “This year I’m especially happy as they are really getting along very well. You can see that they have made some great friendships.”.